Parenting, the Spiritual Way
Sheima Salam Sumer is a trained counsellor and author of “How To Be A Happy Muslim Insha’ Allah” and “The Basic Values of Islam”. Here she responds to some questions on Parenting, the spiritual way.
Q: How do you see the purpose of human life, and, in this context, what do you see as the role of parents in enabling their children fulfil the purpose of their life?
A: I believe the purpose of life is to worship and know God. I try to be a role model to my children of a person who is seeking God’s pleasure. A parent’s priority should be to raise children who seek God’s pleasure.
Q: Have you tried to explain to your children what you believe is the purpose of human life (including the fact of our inevitable death)? How important do you think it is for parents to explicitly discuss this issue with their children?
A: Yes I have discussed this issue. I simply sit with my kids and have a discussion. I tell them that this life is a test and the Day of Judgment is our graduation day. This life is like one day, while the next life is eternal. Discussing the purpose of life is a parent’s most important job. True success is to gain God’s approval. But I don’t think many parents discuss this issue with their children because they only focus on this world.
Q: No parent is perfect, but how would you define a reasonably successful parent?
A: A successful parent gives their child the physical, spiritual and emotional support he/she needs. If my child feels loved and provided for, and if he/she wants to please God, then I am successful. My 12 year-old son praying regularly makes me feel like a successful parent.
Q: Could you cite some salient spiritual teachings related to parenting?
A: Guide your children to serve God. Teaching your children to serve God shows them their purpose in life.
Take the job of parenting seriously. This helps parents to self-reflect and improve their parenting.
Show love and mercy to your children. It improves their self confidence and emotional development, along with strengthening familial love.
Be patient with your children. It helps them to learn from their mistakes without feeling shamed or disrespected.
Treat your children fairly.
Be honest with your children. Being honest with your children teaches them to be honest themselves.
Play with your children. It creates joy in the home and strengthens familial relationships.
Q: Many (perhaps most) people become parents without any proper prior training for their new role. To take up any job—even a so-called unskilled one—people undergo some sort of training, but it is shocking how most people don’t undergo any training for one of the most delicate jobs: of being a vehicle to bring a child into this world and looking after it for several years. What do you feel about this?
A: I agree. It’s surprising that parenting is rarely taught in schools. Bad parenting can negatively impact a person’s entire life.
Q: Because most would-be parents don’t receive any sort of formal training for their new role as parents, their style of parenting may simply be doing what they think is right or what is convenient for them or doing what others do. Or, they may do just as their parents did when they were children, thus reproducing bad parenting practices down the generations. In all these cases, their way of parenting may not necessarily what’s best for the child.
Given this, do you think would-be parents should receive some sort of training for their new responsibilities? If so, what sort of training do you think it should be and how do you think it could be structured?
A: I agree that would-be parents should receive parenting training. Perhaps this training can be provided by hospitals, or even high schools and colleges. Religious leaders/ organizations should prioritize parenting training. At least, parents should educate themselves about proper parenting. There is a plethora of online resources for this. I did a Google search of “free parenting training” and “free online parenting classes” and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of free resources!
Q: Human beings have several types of needs: physical (including food, clothing, shelter), mental/intellectual (education etc), emotional, as well as spiritual. Could you reflect on how parents should seek to meet all these needs of their children, and in a balanced way? Also, could you reflect on the tendency in many families for parents to focus particularly on the first two types of needs and neglect the latter two?
A: All of these needs are important. Without physical needs being met, a child’s mental, emotional and spiritual needs can’t be met. Mental or intellectual needs, like formal education, are important, but emotional intelligence has been found to be more important in life.
Meeting a child’s emotional needs, such as love, belonging, and self-confidence, helps a child to cope with life’s challenges. Spiritual needs are important because they give children a purpose to live, which motivates them from the inside to live a good life.
True success is earning God’s pleasure, and therefore spiritual needs should be a priority for parents. Meeting children’s spiritual needs is as simple as talking to them about God and involving them in activities such as prayer.
Many parents may focus on physical and mental needs of their children more than their spiritual because they are only thinking of this world. They want their children to be financially and physically comfortable, but they don’t realize that true happiness comes from having a positive relationship with God.
Q: In most traditional cultures, mothers, as home-makers, had a major role in the spiritual and emotional development of their children. But now many mothers work outside the home—sometimes because of what is thought of as economic necessity but also sometimes because some women don’t want to be ‘just housewives’. What impact do you think this has on the emotional and spiritual health of their children? How do you think mothers who would like to have a life beyond the home could balance this with giving proper attention to their children?
A: Every situation is different. My parents divorced when I was a child, and my mother worked full-time. But I lived with my grandparents, and that made a huge difference. My grandmother was kind of like the home mother.
My mother is a strong believer in God and made sure we received a religious education. She took us on many fun vacations and made the most of her time with us. With God’s grace, I had a great childhood with a mother who worked outside the home. I think that having relatives around helps a lot.
Now I have chosen to stay home with my children. I felt I would do a better job as a parent by staying home, and, praise be to God, I don’t need to work for a living. What matters most is whether children are receiving enough emotional support and guidance.
Some mothers might not like devoting their entire life to raising kids. They might need an outlet of some kind. The key is to listen to your heart and intuition. Being a happy mother is more important than being a stay-at-home mother.
Q: How do you think parents could enable their children to grow in faith in God and pass on spiritual/religious values and teachings to their children without indoctrinating them?
A: We should encourage our children to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings about God and faith. We should realize that belief in God is part of their nature. I love to tell my children religious stories with moral lessons. We should speak to children’s hearts.
It’s necessary to have good manners with children. If we treat children with respect and love, they are more open to getting closer to God. We should teach children to be sincere in their love of God and teach them what sincerity is.
We should teach children the beautiful aspects of God, such as His mercy, love, forgiveness, and justice. We should focus on the priorities of faith and not pressure children with too many rules. We should inspire love of God before all else.
Q: Some parents try to force their religion on their children, employing fearful images of God. As a result, children grow up thinking of God as a cruel dictator. Outwardly, they may appear ‘religious’, but this religiosity may be only out of fear of ‘God’s wrath’, not out of love for God. In this way, they become fearful people. How do you see this? How do you think parents could nourish their children’s religious/spiritual life based on an understanding of a loving God, and in this process enable them to become loving and compassionate people as well?
A: I totally agree that parents should first teach their children about God’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Then children will want to have a relationship with God. God is Most Compassionate and Most Merciful. God loves us more than a mother loves her child.
We must focus on a child’s heart to build his/her faith in God. No child will love a fearful God. Parents must teach that authentic religious rules are out of God’s love and mercy for us. They must show the wisdom of these teachings and how they are for our benefit. I often ask my children what they are thankful to God for. This reminds them of God’s generosity and love for us.